Month: <span>August 2013</span>

George P. Bush attacks teacher unions


When he was even younger, the young George P. Bush taught for a while in an inner city high school in Miami. Presumably, he experienced many of the challenges that teachers face each day in the classroom and, you would think, learned to appreciate the vital role that teachers play in trying to prepare the next generation for a productive future.

But maybe the education of this former, short-term teacher came up a bit short. I say that because Bush, now a candidate for Texas land commissioner, delivered a direct attack on teacher unions at a campaign appearance in Richmond last week. He said he will not be afraid to take on “the teacher unions who are deteriorating public education,” according to a TSTA staffer who attended the event.

This was a political shot designed to appeal to the school privatization advocates and anti-public service zealots who dominate the Republican primary in which Bush is a candidate. And, it was a direct slap at the teachers whom he purports to admire, the teachers who are trying to save public schools from those privateers and ideologues.

In case you need a reminder, George P. is the nephew of former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. He is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who advanced a number of dubious school privatization schemes in the Sunshine State and continues to beat the drums for ideas to divert tax dollars from public classrooms to corporate pockets.

Speaking to a group of high school students in a conference at the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 – before he became a candidate for office — George P. Bush endorsed the school budget cuts that the legislative majority enacted that year. He said, in essence, that laying off teachers was better than raising taxes to cure a revenue shortfall.

“There will probably be some teachers that are let go,” he said then. And, there were.

About 11,000 teachers – among about 25,000 school employees – lost their jobs in the 2011-12 school year alone, cramming thousands of students into overcrowded classrooms.

This year, the Legislature restored about $4 billion of the $5.4 billion that was cut two years ago, and schools are beginning to recover. But the struggle against an inadequate and inequitable school finance system continues.

The office of Texas land commissioner helps administer oil and gas revenues from state leases that feed the Permanent School Fund. But other than that, the office has little, if anything, to do with setting education policy.

Why Bush saw fit to attack teachers – when you attack teacher unions, you attack teachers – may seem a little puzzling, until you realize how well that line played with the people who are really busy at the task of “deteriorating public education.”


Changing the charter approval process


The new state law that raises the cap on charter schools in Texas also transfers the approval of charter applications from the State Board of Education to the Texas Education Agency. Whether that makes a bad idea worse remains to be seen, but the same legislator who wanted more charters – Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick –also was behind the transfer. So, keep your fingers crossed.

According to The Texas Tribune article linked below, Patrick was concerned that the elected, part-time board, which meets only five or six times a year, wouldn’t have the resources to adequately wade through an expanded number of applications. Yes, this is the same board with a vocal, ideological minority that periodically attempts to destroy public education. I doubt that figured into Patrick’s thinking, but who knows?

In any event, one of that vocal minority, board member David Bradley, already is vocal against the change. Noting that the ultimate control over who gets charters now will be vested in the state education commissioner, a political appointee of the governor, he told the Tribune, “If you want to see a political selection process that is going to create great stories for reporters, hang tough.”

I can hardly wait, although topping some of the ridiculous headlines generated by Bradley and his colleagues over the years will be difficult.

As I noted in a previous blog post, raising the cap on charters from the current 215 to as many as 305 by 2019 comes while charters in Texas, as a whole, continue to under-perform traditional public schools. In the new school accountability ratings released by the Texas Education Agency last week, 95 percent of 1,026 public school districts met state standards, compared to only 80 percent of charters – 161 of 202.

The new charter law also strengthens – at least on paper – state oversight of charter schools, which some legislators hope will make it easier to close down bad charter operators.

Maybe. But we will have to wait and see about that too.



The charter school performance gap


Although it was easy to miss in last week’s Texas Education Agency announcement, there was a distinct performance gap between traditional public schools and charters in the new school accountability ratings. The traditional public schools overall performed significantly better.

Some 975 of 1,026 public school districts met state standards. That was 95 percent, compared to only 80 percent of charters – 161 of 202. About 5 percent of public school districts required improvement, compared to about 15 percent of charters. Eleven charters and one public school district weren’t rated.

This is more proof, unfortunately, that it was a bad idea for the Legislature – at the behest of Sen. Dan Patrick and other school privateers – to raise the cap on the number of charters that Texas can grant. That new law, which TSTA opposed, will gradually increase the number of charters from the current 202 to 305 by 2019.

Had Patrick had his way, he would have removed the charter cap entirely, despite earlier studies showing that charter schools, as a whole, are largely overrated. An education “reformer” in his own mind, Patrick wouldn’t know true education reform if it came up and bit him on the nose.

Digging deeply into teachers’ pockets


Most teachers won’t be surprised to hear this, but the figure nevertheless is large. Teachers throughout the United States spent about $1.6 billion out of their own pockets on supplies and materials for their classrooms during the 2012-13 academic year, a recent survey concludes. That’s a lot of paper, pencils, gluesticks or what have you. And, a lot of budget-cutting and buck-passing by state legislatures and local school districts.

According to the survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association, a trade group, 99.5 percent of teacher respondents said they spent their own money on classroom needs. On average, respondents reported spending $485 each on instructional materials, school supplies and other classroom items. Only about 400 teachers – elementary, middle and high school – participated in the survey. So, some extrapolation was used to come up with $1.6 billion. I don’t doubt such a high figure, however.

Three years ago, the last time TSTA surveyed on this issue, our members reported spending an average of $564 a year of their own money on classroom supplies and materials.

You can read more about the survey by clicking on this Education Week article: